Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Collage

To all of you who I do not get to see nearly enough and who I miss, Happy Christmas! And Happy 2012 one and all. Here's a taster of what Christmas is looking like in our neck of the woods....

Shhh, don't tell Dad...(a joke jar so he can store all the good ones).

Christmas blooms from the Bud Stop, a self indulgent treat.

Lots of pyjama-clad drawing, stamping and tape (oh the fun you can have with tape - and wooly hats.)

More of those snowmen in construction.

Cutting corners; the wallpaper's up but the decorator is a little behind schedule for Jack's present...

Very nearly finished...the much-wanted 'you-made-Oli-one-what-about-me?' dressing gown for Max.

Home made mince pies in my favourite Texan cake tin.

Dom's mulled wine (not shown, it was drunk too quickly, that's the drink, not me...)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Because Instagram is so much fun...

I'm probably the last to catch on to the Instagram app - the one which can make your phone photos have the grainy history of something circa 1970.  Someone asked for a photo of our clothespeg snowmen and that seemed like a good excuse to use it here - et voila. These were copied from others given to me by my Mum many years ago (not quite 1970). Dom's old shirts are getting so much milage (bunting, bags, hats, gift wrap...) and here they are again as scarves for our little gathering. I asked Max what the collective noun for a group of snowmen might be - maybe a 'frosting'?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A whole lot of making...

There are so many inspiring blogs from people making things.  I get my fixes mostly from here and here but of course those sites can lead you to all sorts of other great places. I'm annoyed I never really took this therapeutic activity very seriously.  My problem is that I like the challenge of making something once, and then I get bored if I have to make it again, so I can never produce very much of the same thing.  This Christmas has been pretty crafty though. The boys got totally overexcited about decorating the tree this weekend. I had to remind myself, 'this is Christmas' as I watched them teeter on the arm of a chair (even while I berated them) to try and put a decoration on the topmost branch.  'This is Christmas', making a wreath with Oli and Jack in the afternoon sunshine, compiling our annual most-listened-to music to share, the excitement about making pastry for the mince pies and listening to carols and Christmassy compositions. Christmas cannot be condensed into one day. It is the snowman decorations that Max and Oli are loving making, it is the unorthodox present for Jack that they are helping with (check back after the 25th to find out), it is the debate about religion that emerges when Max asks, 'is Jesus dead?', it is the den the boys built this morning by the nativity scene or in Max's words, 'near merry Jesus', it is the cake we have yet to decorate, it is the many nights when the sitting room is lit just by fire and fairy lights, it is all the making and decorating, the chat and love and fug.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A wreath

We have a new wreath! After many years of gathering greenery and twisting it into the semblance of a circle and then watching it quickly fade to brown in the late Californian sunshine on our south facing front door, I decided on a different approach.  A ball of yarn and some felt balls, which should survive the sunshine and since there's a porch, won't have to brave the rain. It is a hash-up of some fun wreaths I saw while idling online. Oli was the chief architect, picking out the wool and helping me with the balls.
Felt balls are funny little things; fairly pointless but still fun to make.  I'm reminded of an article by the talented Catherine Newman where she made some disparaging comments about felt balls, or perhaps the makers of felt balls - didn't they have anything better to do? (I can't for the life of me remember where I read the piece - possibly Brain Child - but you can read more of her stuff here.)  What then, am I doing, finding time to make felt balls? The fact is, it's a gentle innocuous activity at this time of year with a three year old. We made them in the sunshine with a bowl of soapy hot water. Jack, on the other hand, went off-script and tried several times to baptize himself, at one point even trying a reverse-tip-back technique - he is nothing if not determined! It kept us all entertained for a sunny half hour.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

When I grow up...

Several times now Max has asked me, 'What do you want to be when you are grown up?' I like the idea that I'm still young enough to keep growing. Without missing a beat, I tell him I want to be a writer.  As for those in this family who really are still growing... When Max was four he decided he wanted to be an airport baggage handler.  He was pretty adamant that this was about as exciting a career as he wanted.  A few months before, when we checked our bags in at the airport ready to fly, we hadn't factored in Max's emotional attachment to our luggage. He became a bundle of noisy wet tears amid the check-in kiosks as the bags were being taken off our hands for the journey.  As the queue backed up, under the glare of the strip lighting, kneeling on the cold polished floor, I found myself consoling a screaming child about the wonders of air travel and explaining that we would be reunited with our bags at our destination. Once this proved true, after much disbelief, he saw things in a different light. He fell in love with the 'escalator' mechanism that took bags out of sight, no doubt he loved the stickers slapped on our oversized luggage and of course the magic of a perforated air ticket. At arrivals, while his parents looked on wearily, he ran circles of excitement round the carousel that would finally dispense our bags.  However, 2011 sees a different dream; this time it's a musical one. The boy has always been very particular about what kind of music he listens to - now he wants to make his own. His band, he tells us will be called 'Rocks of Hundreds of Light'.  He even has the name of one of his songs. Last night he gave me the 3 beat rhythm - I actually recorded it, but I'll give you the gist here: Bew-nyew [3 beats of silence] Bew-nyew  [3 beats of silence] Bew-nyew  [3 beats of silence] Bew-Nyew  [3 beats of silence] Bew-nyew-nyew-nyew-nyew-nyew-nyew
One of us obviously needs to learn how to write music and I'm pretty sure it won't be me. Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing the finished version.
Oli on the other hand definitely wants to be a teenager, the reason being that the Lego catalogue contains all sorts of fun things for teenagers to make but nothing for 3 year olds, who must still make do with Duplo.  He is almost astonished when I tell him that he will be a teenager one day. 'Will I? Really?' With regard to being a fully-fledged grown-up, he tells us he wants to be a dinosaur. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cornbread anyone?

Thanksgiving! This has been a hit and miss celebration during our time in the US.  Twice Dom has been away, and last year I got a half turkey delivered so I didn't have to cook one. It ended up being dry and tasteless but since I was in my deranged post-partum state I can barely remember it. This year we are going to a pot-luck where I was encouraged to bring precisely nothing. Nothing? I thought this holiday was all about cooking and sharing?  There's a poster ad here for Newcastle Brown Ale which has a picture of a pint with the words, 'Making British food palatable since 1927'. The pot-luckers are obviously taking no chances with me.  I protested, and was given the task of producing some cornbread muffins. Knowing Dom likes bread sauce, I also suggested I bring some of that, in the name of cross-cultural diversity. We haven't made the bread sauce yet but yesterday I cooked up three batches of cornbread muffins, the first without wheat so as to be gluten free. These first ones turned out a little flat and fairly tasteless so I bought a mix, thinking if I baked them from a that, then I'd know how they should look and could work from there. Were they were meant to be all puffy with overhang like the blueberry muffins in Starbucks? Unfortunately I forgot the egg so the next dozen were just as flat and heavy.  Finally I made the last batch of cornbread just as the recipe suggested.  Certainly not light and fluffy.  Dom thinks they'd be better hot, with Marmite. Lucky we are not in charge of the turkey!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What I actually did...

My weekend alone involved perhaps two overseas phone calls in the end, not the hours I intended - the sun was shining and I had the urge to ride my bike and when you are home alone, you can do what you want. So I rode my bike and browsed in an art shop, and went to the post office and browsed in a lumber shop, and sawed some wood (Jack's Christmas present is coming together...) and went to a yoga class and had an eyelash tint and ate supper early and read and wrote a bit.  I put on three washes and folded all the laundry and amid the quiet I listened to the radio. On Sunday morning I woke at six thirty with the blissful knowledge that I could go back to sleep if I wanted, which I did want. At eight forty five I was woken by the phone ringing. The boys had been up since five and figured I had to be up by now.  So I got up and ate breakfast slowly and suddenly it was eleven and I got a text saying 'Are we allowed home yet?' and in truth I was missing everyone. What I learned this weekend is that an empty laundry pile is an overrated pleasure, but a lie-in is not.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A weekend alone...

This weekend I am alone.  Dom has taken the boys to Sonoma until tomorrow.  The trip was actually delayed until this morning because Oli needed antibiotics dispensed, but this morning everyone was deemed well enough to travel. Train town is on the to-do list. Everyone is very excited.  So, here I am, at home, alone, with SO many things I want to do.  I feel disoriented by the silence and worried that I have so many things to do I will chase my tail and achieve nothing - I want to spend many uninterrupted hours phoning friends overseas, i want to write for the whole weekend, wander the city with a camera, read for hours, sleep for hours, go to yoga for hours, indulge in a lash-tint or a manicure, go to the cinema, make things, sew things, mend things...and that's just the list of what I want to do, there's an even longer list of things I should do... who knew that a weekend 'off' could be quite so fraught...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Smother Mother

I write this for the future me. Are you out there, future-me? Have your children left home? Do you remember when Oli was just three? Max was five and Jack was one.  Every day you told them how much you loved them.   You kissed Jack's eyes, like you kissed Oli's and Max's.  With the older two it had become a joke; the kiss in the socket that stole an eyeball which was then chewed up and popped back in with another kiss. "I just love you," you'd say.  Sometimes Max denied it. "No you don't love me!" he said that afternoon in November when he was home with an ear infection. His voice came from inside a cupboard. He'd just tried to bring the garage door down on his brother and that hadn't made you too happy.  And do you remember how Oli was at three? By then you knew how the time flew, how the days were long but the years were short.
"I love you, Oli" you'd tell him.
"You say that the whole time, the whole time!" he said.
"Is that a problem?" you asked.
"It's frustrating."
And what of Jack? Do you remember kissing the rolls on his neck out in the garden, tipping him back to make him giggle, and Dom saying, "Let him breathe Em!"
Remember all that? Did they break your heart?!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The stars!

What better way for the winter to announce it's arrival than with the bright starry nights we have been having here since the clocks went back last weekend.  I'm not really a fan of the clocks going back - sure, it's an opportunity to snuggle inside a little earlier and it brings with it the happy creep towards the festivities at the end of the year - but it also cuts the day off before I'm ready to come inside.  However, there has been a silver lining this year.  It's not that Oli has never been out in the dark before but it feels as though he is experiencing all the wonder and awe of a star-lit sky for the very first time.  Last night, as the dark crept up on us that whole hour earlier, I realised a bunch of toys were still outside at the end of the garden. We'd pulled a bag of bricks and cars out to a spot where the low slung sun had been able to reach us in the early afternoon.  Max led the intrepid party to retrieve them.
Let me backtrack a little...recently, Oli has been having some issues with a decorative owl perched on a neighbour's roof. He woke up terrified yesterday morning. 'It's out there' he said, wide eyed and pale at five thirty in the morning, 'Max saw it.' It was dark and it took me a while to work out what was out where. When I figured it out, I lifted the blind to see how menacing the owl actually appeared. I couldn't even see the ledge, let alone the bird and Max was fast asleep.  I was not going to argue with this new found anxiety at such an hour.  I persuaded him the bird was busy looking for mice and too hungry to bother us. But twelve hours later he managed to reawaken the horror of the owl as we went to gather up the toys in the dark. Sliding open the doors to the deck he was worried the owl might be waiting, hovering, ready to dart inside.  I reminded him that the owl would still be looking for mice somewhere else and, tentatively, he came outside. Within a few steps he took a big intake of breath.  Was it possible he'd seen that savage mean owl?  His mouth was wide as he pointed upwards and he was running on the spot. 'I see a star!' he squealed. This particular speck of light which we pass under every night was given the awesome appreciation it rightly deserves.  Sometimes it takes a three year old to make you stop and stare.
The moonlight through the trees left a dappled affect on the deck.  It was that point in the evening when you think you can only see a couple of stars and then suddenly, as your eyes become accustomed to the dark, or as the light continues to fade, you see that they freckle the sky. We could see dozens of them. The nighbours must have thought we'd uncovered a family of raccoons with all the shrieks of 'I see one! I see one!'
And then, driving home from a lengthy visit to the doctor this afternoon, and an extended wait for the antibiotics for Max's ear infection, yet again the dark was upon us and while Jack was voicing his hunger and I was thinking about what I could scrape together for supper, Oli squealed from the back seat, 'I see a star!' The full moon bright in the windscreen passed him by, but that shining solitary star - when I am feeling cheated that an hour of daylight has been stolen from me I must remember that the shorter days have given Oli the gift of a starlit sky.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Crafting quickly...

I think it was in The Creative Family that I read about 'crafting quickly'. If I had it my way, I'd do nothing very quickly. Although I'm a keen multi-tasker I like to take time to do anything. But parenting has made me quick to realise that if you spend too long in procrastination and then some more in preparation you will never get anything done. With that in mind, I introduce to you to our first Hallowe'en decoration, Mr Bones...

He is small fry by comparison to our decorative neighbours. Most houses near us have spiders the size of doors climbing up the exterior walls and have polyester cobwebs that appear to seal the entrance to their homes. There are Frankensteins and severed limbs, black cats with wild green eyes and pumpkins inflated on the rooves. As I write this I realise I should take some photographic evidence of this stuff - next year.  Oli, who I believed was scared of nothing has taken it upon himself to be terrified of Mr Bones, though he saw that he was made (in less than half an hour) with that All Blacks T shirt (sorry, Sally Anne, you knew Dom would never wear it!) and how we stuffed him with old socks and stuck a pole in him so he'd sit up straight. But perhaps that's simply scary in itself - to make a little body, larger than Oli's - out of relatively nothing and stick a pole up his bottom to make him behave.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Jack has turned one!

One dimple. Two brothers. Three bottles. Four teeth. Five nonsense nicknames. Six in the morning. Seven miles an hour. Eight feet up the stairs. Nine odd socks. Ten decibels. Can you tell we have a child in Kindergarten? Happy birthday Jack!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


My life this week - defined by the contents of my pockets at the end of each day...
2 pens
A roll of quarters
A packet of dextrose energy sweets
A small white stone
The eraser from the top of a pencil
A green plastic alien with square feet
Half a roll of quarters
A small white stone
Half a teething biscuit
1 quarter
A broken piece of plastic tortoiseshell
Nothing (...was I getting self conscious about this exercise?)
2 crayons
A bath plug and chain ?!
1 quarter
A raisin
A broken crayon
A blown 10amp fuse

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


It is quiet around here. With Max in school, real school, school that lasts more than three hours, things have got a lot quieter.  In fact last night, when I went to bed, it was a surprise to find that it was Oli's voice rattling around in my head.  I remember when Max began speaking and his chit chat invaded my head. All I could hear was his phantom banter as I drifted off to sleep, only to wake up to the real thing in the morning. And it is Max's daily absence that has suddenly made me hear more clearly the lilt of Oli's phrases, the subtle lisp ('theat' not 'seat'), the rise and fall of his short, incomplete sentences and if I'm honest, his whine to be carried up the stairs. But it is lovely to have Oli's voice filling that little bit of empty audio space in our home.

It was this time last year that I was feeling totally overwhelmed by the new preschool we had chosen for Max. Admittedly I had other preoccupations, like a newborn on the way, the awful kindergarten admission process and a move to a new home but the school involved mandatory parent enrichment nights - like a parenting night school - participation in the classroom, and all kinds of attendance at book teas, round tables and workshops.  But as the year progressed I realised that the preschool was in fact something very unique and, with it's emphasis on imagination and discovery, it was exactly the way I wanted to parent my children. So this year we have arrived at the start of Oli's preschool adventure. I've had to write him a family book - all about our family, about Oli's place within it and our traditions and values - things I, frankly, hardly think about in the daily chaos of having small children. But actually it seems the perfect time to sit down and think about who Oli is, to separate him from Max, and hear his voice a little louder.


2 exciting additions to our home - the first is Dom - back from his trip to the rugby World Cup in NZ, and armed with Tshirts for the boys. The second is the new chalkboard by the kitchen table. I had the outline ready to go with masking tape for weeks, but didn't have the guts to paint such a large space, in our rather dark kitchen, black. But then I took the plunge and, of course, it's not black. Oli contributed the jellyfish although he didn't actually say it was such. Max wrote 'WElcOmE HOmE DADDy'.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

This scene...

A scene like this must have been played out between a thousand mothers and their sons.  There is nothing new about dropping a child off for his first day at school. It is not extraordinary, just a simple rite of passage. Four of us climb the school steps and enter through glass double doors. I have Jack on my back, Oli at my heels and Max by the hand. We look up and down the corridor and see the locker room to our right.  There's a mild smell of disinfectant. Inside the room, we begin to look for Max's cubby hole. His name is not there. We keep looking. Perhaps there's been an oversight and he has been forgotten. All the names are empty, unknown; Rosie Tring, Victor Yung, they don't carry with them the heavy weight of Kindergarten revelations; that Rosie wins all the running races or Victor was bitten by a dog.  We do know one other boy and we are excited to find his locker.  And then, at last, we find Max's name. His cubby hole is against the wall on the furthest side.  He stashes his backpack and wordlessly we walk back down the corridor to the gym. That's where the noise is coming from, that's where the teacher stands with her clipboard.  We walk in and stand a moment a few feet inside, not yet part of this scene, but on the edge.  Max hangs on to my hand, pulling me down towards him.  I make enthusiastic exclamations about how great everything looks; the balls and hoops and hoppers and rackets.  I'm not really duping him, everything does look cool, but I wonder if he can tell that I'm not being totally authentic either, I'm willing him to fit in here, to find his feet.  The night before we had read the book, 'Follow the Line to School' where a solid black line on each page leads you through those double doors and into classrooms and playgrounds before leading you, at the end of the book, back home.  With slow, small footsteps Max begins to trace the blue lines on the floor that mark out the basketball court.  Oli copies him and I follow on behind.  I pretend to balance on a high wire.  Jack's weight makes it more than just pretense.  Someone rolls a hoop past us, sending it on it's wobbly course right across the gym.  We watch to see how far it will get before it coruscates to a sudden stop.  Max's movements are slow but his eyes dart around to take in the scene around him; the 'eek' of rubber soles on the polished floor, the raised stage at the far end, the stash of chairs in the corner, the older kids that already seem to know each other, the head teacher hovering in casual dress. We have crossed to the other side of the gym. Max's footsteps speed up, still a shuffle, but excited, faster movements that get him closer to that stack of hoops. He wants to try his luck and get his further than the other boy.
Oli wants a hoop now and I suddenly see that my problem might not be leaving Max, but extracting Oli. I act quickly and tell Max it's time for us to go.
'Let me give you an extra hug' he says.
And it is done. The first drop-off.
When I collect him at noon (a sweetener, this shorter day) he is more interested in getting his ball from under that stack of chairs than coming to greet me. I know it's a good sign. The teacher tells me there were a few tears and that she sat with him for a while to talk about things. He asked lots of questions about his class and how this new school worked. She said that helped. She said he was a good listener. In the car I don't press him for details but, in snatches by the end of the day, I find out that he was on the blue team, that Carl was on the white team and that Carl doesn't like white. I find out that he knocked down all the orange skittles and the man in the white shirt shouted 'Strike!' and asked him how he'd done that. That they played in the gym the whole time and that he might have played 'Simon Says' or might not.
We fill the afternoon with playing at home and in the garden.  It is one of our last summer holiday afternoons. I'd like you to believe that the boys played happily while I cooked them a wholesome supper.  But that's not entirely true. Yes they played, and yes, I bunged baked potatoes in the oven, but they picked on Jack a little, putting toys on his head and I got cross.  We'd all got up early, practicing the new routine for school, so everyone was tired by suppertime.
'If I live with a cross mummy, I'll be homeless.' Max said, insinuating, I suppose, that he'll be packing his bags if I'm annoyed when he tests me.
Bedtime arrives and not a moment too soon. Before I kiss Max good night, I want to acknowledge the day somehow, but I should know better.
'I love you.' I say.
He is in bed, looking intently at a sequence of Tintin's adventures in Destination Moon.
'What is he doing?' His finger is pressed on a picture of Snowy flying down the stairs in hot pursuit.
'He's chasing a cat.' I say. 'Dogs do that.' His finger traces across the page. 'Max, I want you to know I love you. You were brave today at school. I know that sometimes I'm cross because I need to get things done and because I want to protect you and I want to make sure you - and Oli and Jack - are safe.'
'Why is he falling?' Snowy has landed in a blizzard of stars at the bottom of the stairs.
'Its an accident. We don't see accidents coming.'
'But why did he fall? What is he doing?'
This time Max is pointing at Captain Haddock who has an illegal stash of whisky bottles and a stern looking customs official looking at him.
'We will have to read the book and find out.' I say, thinking, that soon school will soon give him that gift of reading and a new world will open up to him. And hoping, as we both head into something new, that the choices we have made are the right ones, that this is a school that will support him and that his curiosity will not be dented.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


For what feels like years, I've been having to remind myself that Oli is 'only two'. He follows his five year old brother around daring to believe he can do everything Max can do, and possibly better. 'And I are? And I are?' he'll say - as both question and declaration - hoping to put a dent in Max's claims to be the best at biking or running or digging in the dirt.  'And I are?'  And now he's 3 and about to get some mornings to himself at school.  Despite my earlier post about the three month eternity of the school holidays, this time of year feels packed with emotion.  The children are getting older, which means I'm getting older, and while I want one, I don't necessarily want the other.  And even as I want what is passing I need to say goodbye to it before it goes. A new daily landscape emerges as we settle in to new routes to new schools, and the inevitable need to get up even earlier in order to get places on time.  New interests seek to be accommodated while I suddenly mourn the loss of all those unstructured days of pajama breakfasts, mega constructions and impromptu walks in search of sticks and puddles. My parenting has to shift around a bit to feel comfortable with the new age groups in the family and the different interactions.  Taking on (even small) responsibilities at the children's schools feels like a weighty commitment.  Was there really a time, five years ago, in the days when I had just one infant to care for, when I would take a lunchtime nap? The very concept feels extraordinary.
So in celebration of things moving on a little, Oli turned three and he had some friends round to acknowledge the fact. We slung bunting up around the garden and he ate large quantities of a cake designed to look like an airport runway.  And once the party was over and three of the four beds upstairs contained slow-breathing boys, I snuck a look at some bad quality recordings of me, taken in the middle of last year, where I am trying to get Oli to say 'dotta bridge'. And I said goodbye to that little boy so that we can welcome what comes with the three year old version.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Back in about 1988, my brother and I owned a word. A word that was meaningless to everyone but us. Nyyrrrr. It described a situation that involved some kind of awakening, a touch of confusion and probably mild embarassment. It was neither an adjective nor a noun and we never used it as a verb. It was just said.  A single word. And it was understood.
So it is both funny and familiar to hear strange new words bubbling up from inside my own children. Bundi. Apu até. Driz Driz. I have absolutely no idea what they mean - and Max isn't even in Kindergarten yet - but he uses them with a cozy familiarity. Even Oli, who has only just learned to say 'carry me' rather than 'kai me', is fluent in the language of Driz Driz.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer holidays!

I have found myself reaching for a book I bought a while ago, Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children.  Oh the unbridled joy of a three month summer holiday! Yes, we are somewhere in the middle of that savage territory...and everyone's sanity must be restored.  I can't believe I once entertained the idea of homeschooling.  Stay present, stay present. That seems to be the mantra. I blame my frontal lobe - isn't that the place in my head that refuses to 'stay present' and is always casting back and forth in time - 'Must quickly check in on the future or back on the past, see if I match up.' Well, no hope of that.  I wasn't planning on being called Mrs Poo Poo Diaper by a five year old, especially not one I was related to. So much for the pleasures of several weeks of unstructured play and spectacle parenting - where your best efforts are under close observation by those who, you naturally assume, are busy packing and unpacking their own cerebral suitcases - remembering how it was to parent three decades ago or wondering whether a child who calls his mother Poo Poo Diaper will, in a few short years, be looting in the streets of London.
Not to say we haven't had a lovely summer in parts. Who can argue with a family vacation Stateside? Days at the beach, searching for sea glass and collecting periwinkles. Camp fires on the gravelly shore and suppers of steamed shellfish.  We also headed back to the UK which felt good.  The children and I had our fill of rope swings and tree houses, dog-walking, egg-collecting, lifeboat love, splashing through streams, boat trips and beaches, bellies in the surf and feet in the rock pools.
Damn it, though, if it's not unsettling when you do come home, to your real home, the one you actually live in. I was a dark cloud for weeks.  I thought I had on some pretty tough armour - an exciting house project here in the States, a preschool we love for Oli, a new school full of possibilities for Max. It did feel different, this year, being back in the UK. I didn't have the wistfulness I've had before, the 'what if's or 'maybe's. I wasn't looking in the local paper for derelict stone cottages on windswept clifftops.
But being homesick is such a waste of energy. And being in the midst of young children, for me, tinges my homesickness with a cloying nostalgia.  The word 'nostalgia' was coined back in the fifteenth century when Swiss mercenaries fighting on the lowland French plains would pine for their native mountains. They were so afflicted that doctors considered 'nostalgia' a disease.  I don't need medication but it does feel like a condition I can't shake. Even as I consciously idealise the place of my birth, I long for it.  I know it is an ideal - but I remember my childhood in happy glimpses - making dens in the tall grass before the farmers cut it for hay, cupping newly-hatched chicks in my hand before school, scouring the hedges for wild strawberries, transported to the Swiss alps reading Heidi in the bow of my father's fishing boat.  I realize now I cannot offer my children the same thing. Did I ever think I could replicate a childhood? Somehow I thought that giving them the same geographical backdrop would be the least I could do.  Not so. I offer something else. A different family, a different country. Who is to say it is not equally as valid. We are discovering new things together rather than replicating what has gone before. The arrow of time is the first principle of physics. So I discovered, on our return flight from London when I watched - or snatched, as you do, when flying with children - a documentary about entrophy and the eventual chaos of the solar system. Happy stuff.  Especially at 35,000 ft.  But one thing that becomes hard to deny is that this planet of ours, with it's constant movement forward and the unique way it can support life, is just perfect. Stay present, stay present.
As for the summer holidays? Is entrophy the natural conclusion for this three month break? With yet more weeks to go before kindergarten starts, a friend tells me her five year old is getting up in his school uniform - a sure sign that it is not just parents who are searching for sense in the chaos.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Love Note

Yesterday, my son's teacher handed me a postcard-sized piece of paper and said, 'This is for your love note.'  I must have missed the briefing about love notes and looked at her blankly.  She had to clarify that this was a love note to Max for his graduation. Now, the whole concept of graduating from preschool is new to me.  Does Max become a post-grad before he even gets to Kindergarten? And a public love note for the occasion? Of course I love him, his curiosity, persistence, his stubbornness, his zeal; but how to write something that says I love you which isn't too saccarine and isn't going to leave me blushing when the other parents read it?  I suppose, in part, this blog is a public love note, so I really should be over that aspect of it. I put pen to paper and tried to write a little poem for my five year old. It needed to fit on a postcard and for lack of other entries on this blog (for which I'm sorry and I promise to improve) I'll share it with you here, hastily written but from the heart:

Love Note to Max, June 2011
Max in motion, always moving;
Jumping, spinning, climbing high,
Shifting dirt around the garden,
Dancing with a hue and cry...
That's until we go out walking -
Suddenly your legs are stiff,
Exercise is very boring,
When you've just reached 3 ft 6.
Trucks and diggers keep you busy,
Collecting driftwood, fallen sticks,
Then a subject seems to grab you,
Most recently it's sunken ships.
That's when the questioning gets serious,
What's an orlop? What's a deck?
How do you make an airtight chamber?
How indeed! How the heck?
How you love your little brothers,
Kiss them, hug them, hold their hands.
And they look to you for all things -
How to jump and where to land.
At night your bed is full of 'am-nals'
Dogs and bears, a cow or two
Every night the line-up's different -
But one thing's constant - we love you.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Lots of things have been keeping me from writing recently. Not just boys, but work on the house - I'm trying to avoid renovation posts in this blog but you can intermittently follow our progress over here. Another distraction has been that the computer has been out of action with hard drive problems and then logic board issues, then I was back to the shop yesterday with software problems. All very time consuming for those precious free hours.  I did snatch some sewing minutes over the past week or so, and dedicated them to making yet another hat.  The repurposed jeans that became a sun hat last summer did not survive the chaos that ensued when Jack was born - I think it was lost at school and by the time my brain was functioning enough to ask the teachers about it, it was winter and raining and no-one had seen a sun hat in weeks.  Earlier this year I hastily made a Christopher Robin style one - call it speed crafting - it's floppy and suits our resident AA Milne fan, but then I found the perfect pattern and had to give it a go - even though it talked about poplin and involved interfacing. But for the $2 cost of the interfacing an old shirt became a hat...

It turned out to be for Oli and his larger than average head circumference. He seems to love it and I'm sure it's because he helped with the sewing. He was controlling the stitch of my sewing machine saying 'red light', 'green light' as I stopped and started the foot pedal. He was also adjusting the stitch size and tension when I wasn't looking which was a little less helpful.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Time goes by...

I've been trying to think about why it is, that it's so easy to forget your own children as they were at six months old. I can barely remember Max or Oli being the age at which Jack is now.  I suppose it's such a tiny fraction of their lives (and mine), that that's why it gets swallowed up in the abyss of forgotten things.  After all, children are toddlers for a year, but only a week old for a day. Blink, and they are 2 weeks, then a month.  Perhaps it is also because you can't remember how you didn't know this child like you do now.
It feels as if, first there is the rainstorm. It is what it is, and you deal the way you do, and then a stream appears. The water's moving quickly and yet you feel like nothing will ever change. You will always be here, watching this kind of water, on this kind of river bank, always able to step across the stream.  And then the water level rises and every day the picture of your child, the character, becomes a little fuller.  You know the eczema on his thumb and the milk spots under his chin. You know the smell of formula on his breath and how his eyelashes have grown. You know how he smiles for his brothers and looks at you to be reassured. He loves his bath, you find out, and you notice how his feet are the length of your thumb. You know how he pulls his socks off and sucks them and looks amused and startled when he rolls himself over, and how he marvels at his hands and smiling, grips your hair when you lean in to his cot. You know how he slips to one side in his high chair, and how he'd be nursing forever if he could.  You know the feeling of his cold fingers and sharp nails on your chest, and how he'll sleep in broad daylight, tolerating the fact that you haven't found the time to put up curtains in his room.
I begin to piece the jigsaw of this boy together, pulling genes from here and there; the dimples, the turn of his mouth and the curve of his nose. And each day the water runs quicker and the river gets wider. Not so easy to step across. And sure enough he's a month older and I swore I'd never imagined I'd be weaning him. But here it is and I look back and can barely remember that first rainstorm, when I couldn't see for the drizzle and the fog.  Jack's head gets heavier and his eyes brighten and he chuckles and smiles and seeks me out and when his brothers maul him, his look asks me, 'has this been authorized?'  I so want to look and look at Jack and live his every moment, to say 'bouncing butterball' to him and watch him giggle, mouth wide, at the breath-pumping consonants. But it isn't just about observation. I am part of the landscape, I'm changing too and in this place there are two more rivers - moving so fast and yet changing ever so gradually - and so much to discover.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Five fun filled years - celebrated with a Titanic pinata, a hastily made Titanic cake, no singing but much silliness...

Monday, April 4, 2011

A weekend away

I've just come back from a weekend away. The night before I left, the friend who invited me on this indulgently idle trip, free from the responsibilities of motherhood, called me to make arrangements. Upstairs, Max and Oli were meant to be asleep. So, she'd be at my house in the city by four, to hand her kids over to her husband, Dom would be home to take charge of ours and we'd take her husband's car down south.  It was all arranged.  I don't remember exactly what I said, but no doubt I was enthusiastic. The last time I had a day without washing up or wiping bottoms was when I was in labour. 
I put the phone down,  and a minute later I heard sobbing from the stairs. Someone small, eves dropping.
'What's the matter?' I ask gently. I can only see orange tractor pajamas and some arms hugging a pair of knees. I walk over to the bottom of the stairs and see Max, his head leaning on the railings.
'Why do you want to leave us?' he sobs. Well how's that for guilt?
'Here, let me give you a hug' I said, 'so that if you miss me while I'm away you can think of it and I'll be right here.' 'But why are you going?' I navigated delicately through the reason. My friend was due to have her third child and she was going to have some rest at her parents house before the baby arrived. I was going along for the rest too. It wasn't that I desperately wanted to go, but that she'd asked me and I thought she'd appreciate it. The last bit wasn't entirely true. She'd have had to scrape me off the bonnet if she decided to go without me.
'I'm only going for a night.' I said. 'Well, two.' I added.
At this point, Oli - who had been pacing around on the landing - suddenly said he needed to 'Pee In Loo...Pee In Loo.' The urgency of it put an end to Max's line of questioning, and I was back to wiping bottoms, not a pee after all.
Saturday morning. I wake at 6.45am even though there's no-one small trying to get into my bed.  And it turns out that although it is not very easy to lie in when you are in the absence of your children, it is very easy to idle away a morning.  Soon after 8am I picked up a message from home. Dom's voice first, telling Max, 'You can leave a message. The answer machine's on' then a muffled exchange of the phone followed by a voice saying, 'Hello. This is Max. Why...why, won't you speak? I mean it's infuriating. I don't know what you are doing. Are you having a lie-in or something?'
Mid morning we decided to have lunch and a manicure at the local spa. It will probably be the only time I ever get into a white robe to have my nails polished. But when in California... And of course, we had to seek out the oxygen room but with disappointing results, and my mum has since told me there's an oxygen room just off the A30 in Sticker so, not-so-Californ-I-A after all.
I accepted the offer of a warm neck pillow for the duration of the manicure. I don't think that offer will come round again in the next few years...and I had a nice chat to Nicole, the beautician.  I was telling her that my pregnant friend and I were here to get some relaxation in before mayhem arrived. I was speaking from experience.
'Mayhem - that's a pretty name.' she said.  I have to admit, it has a ring to it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What bears eat?

'What bears eat, Mama?'
The question comes from Oli and seems to be completely unrelated to the train track we are building.
'Fish' I say, and then thinking of Winnie the Pooh, I add '...and honey.'
The next question comes in casually, 'Bears eat peoples?' He uses the kind of tone that says, 'not scared, just curious.'
'No, fish and honey' I reassure him, but perhaps a more honest answer might be 'sometimes'.
Oli and I must have danced through this little dialogue dozens of times. I wonder whether he just likes the familiarity of knowing the answer. Because, when you're two, there's a frustrating amount that you just don't know, after all, there's so much language that just doesn't quite make sense.  Even for Max, at the mature age of nearly-five, there are words I'm sure I use every day that he'll suddenly ask me the meaning of. Today it was 'throbbing' and 'skinny'.  No wonder children get frustrated. Wouldn't you? It must be like being surrounded by people throwing in words like spissitude and temulent* to your everyday conversation. 
At the moment Max is obsessed with the sinking of the Titanic.  As well as drawing my attention to the fact that he pronounces 'sink' and 'think' in the same way, (Do you sink it sunk...), it has also brought a lot of technical language into our home; the nature of watertight chambers, poop decks and orlops. Each night Max asks me to leave him a note by his bed for the morning, with some new fact about the infamous vessel.  Sometimes I remember.
Then, the other day, Oli and I were in the car, having just dropped Max at school.
'When Titanic sinks Mama?' he asked.
'The Titanic sunk in 1912, Oli.' 
'Oh', he says, then 'When dinosaurs sink?'
'Dinosaurs are extinct, Oli.' I tell him. 'It means they don't exist any more.'
The phonetics are identical and it makes marvel again at how the world is slowly revealing itself to this child.
'Do peoples sink Mum?' he asks.
Sink, extinct, think...'Sometimes' I say.

*density and intoxicated for those of you with aspirations for the scrabble board.


Everything has lifted a little since the rain stopped. And today I heard a daffodil open. The kitchen was warm and I had a vase of buds on the table.  Inside, it had fallen quiet. Max was perfecting his moping skills.  Home from school, the sun shining, he went to lie on a bench in the garden. After a while he rolled over and lolled his head over the side of the bench, looking at the ground, his hair flopping down. I kept looking out of the kitchen window to see him examining the brickwork underneath him, or the moss, or a beetle, who knows...   Moping on a sunny day, it's is an activity that feels exclusive to Max these days.  Oli's too young to mope properly - he's either busy or tired.  Watching Max, brought back to me that feeling I used to have, in elementary school, when we were told it was time to wear our summer uniform. No more those scratchy grey flannel kilts and polyester shirts (with a tie), now it was officially summer and time for the turquoise tartan tunic, and the smell of fresh cut grass.
All I could hear were the birds. Oli and Jack were both sleeping. I stopped to take in the silence and heard the crinkle of bursting daffodil buds.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dotta Bridge

'Dotta Bridge!' cries Oli, pointing to the Golden Gate Bridge as we turn left along the Marina.  Sometimes he yells it in the middle of city traffic and I glance around to see its vanishing image on a passing bus or an impression of it high up among the electric bus cables, on a banner persuading us to visit the National Parks. I wonder how deeply the image of the bridge will be embedded in Oli's mind - the tall red ladders slung low with delicate matching string.  There are so many representations of it around the city - it's on a mural at the supermarket, in shop windows and on logos everywhere.
Speaking slowly, Max tells him 'It's the Golden Gate Bridge!' He has all the authority of someone who is going to be five.
Luckily Oli hasn't taken on board this correction yet. It's Dotta be Dotta Bridge, for now at least.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Just us

Grinning, Oli announces, 'We're having a birthday!'
It's as if we've just decided on it, a spontaneous idea.  There's a fizz of excitement in his voice.  I'm not sure how much he understands but he knows it's going to be special.  I, on the other hand, am well aware of the impending date, it's my birthday after all, and I'm the wrong side of 35. So I'm quite happy to let this birthday go, ignore it. But there's such excitement in plans for cards and cakes that I must be excited. It matters. I begin to feel more about this birthday than I have about any in the past decade.
'Who would you like for your birthday?' Max asks me.
I think for a moment and tell him I'm just fine with the 5 of us.
'No, Mummy.' It's as if I haven't understood. 'Who would you like to come for your birthday?'
This is a boy who is meticulously planning his fifth birthday party. He wants to invite everyone from school. 'Patrick, Kai, Braydon' he lists. Then he asks 'Grandpa?' I give him a look - Grandpa is five thousand miles away and unlikely to make it over for birthday tea in April. He misinterprets my look.
'You know Granny Mot?' he says, as if I need my memory shaken.
'Yes.' I take care not to be facetious.
'Well, that grandpa..they got married...they can be the people who bring the cake.'
I smile but he's back to his list. 'Alex, Tommy, Lola...'
'Just us.' I say.
Tomorrow it will be just us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Still there?

Anyone still there? I know I've been taking some time away from the computer the past month - I promise to post soon! In the meantime you can enjoy this photo - after getting Max dressed in his warmest gear for a cold walk on the beach (they promised snow here the other day but it never materialized) I turned round to find he had stripped off several layers and found a convenient place to hang his boots - as you do!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Latest from here...

I've begun - and then scrapped - so many posts to this blog recently. Each one has sounded like an apology more than anything else, so perhaps I'll just get it out of my system and then I can move on. It's true this blog began as an essay, of sorts, to my children.  The past few months, it has felt harder to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and filter out what needs to be said and what doesn't, harder to edit the details of my life to what matters. I can safely say Jack's arrival saw me go a little deranged, but then, what post-partum period isn't?  But I felt eaten up with a sleep deprived anxiety about the future and I wonder whether, at the heart of my worries, was the selfish panic that I would never ever have any time again, time for anything, time for myself, to write a bit - write this small effort at capturing my children - no time at all that wasn't taken up with nursing, soothing and changing an infant; feeding, tantrum-managing and entertaining a two year old or ferrying around, negotiating with and being interrogated by a four year old, and then cleaning it all up and starting over again! That gives you a taste of the passing undocumented days...and when I say undocumented I say it with the sweaty realisation that the 'genius' I saw in the Apple store seems to have erased all 6,000 photos I've taken since 2006.  That's the birth of three children, five years of 'firsts', and yes - I really thought I had backed them all up but everything I seem to open is blank and bare.  So here's where the memory will have to sharpen up.  And that really sums it up, just as I'm about to share some thoughts here, something like the loss of 6,000 precious photos gets in the way, and then someone, usually everyone, needs feeding again!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome 2011

Hello New Year! I'm so glad you're here. I know I'm a few days late with the welcome wishes and everything, but I just wanted to get the measure of you. You see, your predecessor threw me some hard balls early on and I just...well, you know, I just wanted to make sure we were friends.  2010, I don't know, it looked good on paper but it just wasn't my best, that's all.  But 2011, well I don't want to be gushing - but it feels good. You look great by the way.  You really do. No, I'm not just saying it.  So here we are. Yes, I can safely say I feel more comfortable that you're here. I think we are going to get on. I think it's going to be fun. So really, well, I suppose I just wanted to say thanks for coming.  Stay around a while, make yourself comfortable.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dairy Diary

Yesterday we came back from a few days staying on a dairy farm north of the city.  We rented a bungalow that looked out over the run down farmhouse and out-buildings.  Everything looked like it needed some love, the paint was peeling on the barns, overhead wiring between the buildings looked perilous.  There was slurry on the roads and mud you could lose a boot in.  We arrived there in howling wind and torrential rain, but after such a relaxed Christmas, our spirits would not be dampened.  In fact the space and the farmland and the view of the sea was just what we wanted. The wind hardly let up - so much so, that it was sometimes hard to catch your breath - but the sun did come out and the light of the early sunrise and sunset was amazing. And our friendly farmer wanted to talk corn prices and agricultural politics and show us the farm where he'd grown up.  It was the perfect place for my puddle jumping, mud-loving children!
In the place where I grew up, my next door neighbour was a dairy farmer. The herd of fresians rubbed their necks on our garden fence, their black and white backs were dotted about the fields around our home, we smelt their muck and trod in their cowpats. In the spring we heard their braying when their calves were taken from them.  In the autumn, we picked the mushrooms that grew out of their manure. When we camped in the field once I was convinced they were gnawing on our guy ropes but the tent did not fall down so it must have been their noisy chewing of the cud.  So I have slept just yards from a cow but in spite of this proximity, I had never seen one milked.  And since I'm nursing at the moment myself, I had a new level of respect for these animals as we observed them from the 'pit' in the milking parlour. The invitation came from our accommodating host and was seized upon happily by all of us.  But when you are eye level with a swollen udder, heavy and veined, a few things happen. First, you realise how big a cow actually is, then you become extremely thankful you are not also a cow with their heavy gait and weighty milk-producing burden, and you promptly have a new appreciation for a simple glass of milk and vow never again to let it go off by leaving it out overnight or let it spill across the table from a clumsy hand.
Through a circular piece of glass you could see the milk pulsing out of the udders.  The farmer talked about the iodine used to prevent infections like mastitis. I winced with the memory of it.  He told us the herd were more productive if they listened to music they recognised.  A tinny sounding Latin jazz from the local Hispanic radio channel could be heard from a speaker strung over a beam on the ceiling.  Don't all the parenting books tell us, you nurse better when relaxed?  I looked on in awe, safe behind the iron rails that held the cows in place. Then I got a splash of cow pee and decided to retreat a little closer to the door of our observation 'pit' - poor Jack was strapped to me in a carrier after all.  Not deterred by any of this, Max and Oli wanted to see the calves.  Aged between two weeks and three months, they were being weaned in little tents nearby. Their coats were clean and fluffy as they jumped around their muddy pens. They stuck their noses through the fencing and sucked the farmers hands in the absence of their mothers.  Max wanted to kiss them. Oli wanted to put them on the BBQ. 'Me eat that cow' he said, pointing at one whose pink nose was spotted with black, as if she'd stuck it in an ink well.  'Me dream 'bout cows' he told us this morning and I didn't really think to ask what kind of dream it was.  We offered both boys a beefburger for lunch today and in contrast to Oli's gastronomic take on his farm experience, our future vegetarian declined for both of them, 'That's a waste of a cow' Max said.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Oli's words, part II

I remember how, 2 years ago, I watched Max's language begin to evolve. I went to bed at night hearing his peculiar turns of phrase, it inhabited my head, his repeated demands for 'big milk' or the intriguing way in which bananas were always 'numanas'. I smiled at the sweetness of those ever so slight phonetic inaccuracies. And now it is Oli's language that rattles around in my mind, the repeated lines that he uses to make himself understood.  'You dough-way' he says, pushing me off, his independence threatened by my kisses.  'Me pee!' he cries as we rush to the pot.  Then 'You read it!' as he drags a book to the sofa where I am nursing Jack. 'You read it 'den. You read it right now.'  The other night he cried out in his sleep. 'Me have it. Me have it.' I walked down the corridor to his room. His hot head was on the pillow, his body curled round his sucked thumb. 'No, me have it!' It was a wail of desperation. 'It's yours' I whispered in his ear as he dreamed.  And how I love the phrases he's heard, like a traffic jam which he calls a 'japping jam' or how he proudly sings 'row row row your boat' and abbreviates those final 'merrily's to a succinct no-nonsense, 'melly like deem'.
I'm all too aware that this is a brief window, it's almost impossible to hold onto his changing language and his emerging comprehension of it.  He has now worked out that his name is Oli with an L rather that Oyi with a Y. He said it with a Y for the last time a few days ago. And soon enough he'll realise the small yellow beetle that hides out in Richard Scarry's strange world of bananamobiles and carrot cars is not in fact dollbug. 'Me see dollbug!' he says, stamping his little finger down on the page with an audible inhale of pure excitement, or a whine of 'Oww, me' if Max spots it first.  Funny to think all this will be gone in a month or so.  I'm sure he'll still tell me to 'dough-way' but he'll say it with a 'g'. And I'll be able to take it because I'll have the memory of him asking me, just today, 'hold yous hand, Mummy? Hold yous hand.'